Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Close Shave November

National Novel Writing Month has come to a close, and I am proud to announce that I successfully completed the first draft of my thriller novel, On the Side of the Angel, in the allotted time. This novel is planned as part of a cooperative series, and tells the story of the first adventure of The Bartering Angel after she fakes her death and goes off grid at the conclusion of our prequel.

The prequel is a story several of us authors worked on together, with some offering suggestions for the character and backstory, while others outlined, fleshed out, or edited the final story. My entry into the series is set in the Pittsburgh region and the greater Midwest. That's why there is a bridge from "dahn tahn" Pittsburgh featured on the cover. It sets both the place and the theme, since my story acts as a bridge between the prequel and the series as a whole.

My next step is to send the story off to my beta readers, so if you responded to my earlier request to be included in that group, expect a copy in your inbox shortly. I'll then take the advice of those early readers, and clean up the story and grammar errors they catch, before going back in for final edits.

Look for more information on The Bartering Angel series and the prequel in the coming months.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Author Interview: Christopher Johnson: Author of Seven Days Dead

Christopher Johnson is a former United States Marine Sergeant who lives in New Jersey with his three sons.  A fully disabled veteran, he enjoys writing in fiction, specifically scifi, and nonfiction religious anthropology.  He has held a variety of jobs from night auditor at a hotel to Financial Advisor, has dabbled in amateur blacksmithing, and has a real thing for zombies.  You can see his work, as well as get updates on forthcoming books, at his website:

Seven Days Dead 
   Tal Barzani, Mizrahi Jew, former IDF operator, and confirmed drunk wakes up to find his city in flames. As Jerusalem burns, he accidentally saves a ragtag group of people already on the jagged edge of survival. Will they escape the City of David alive? Can Tal keep his group together long enough to find safe harbor? Or will it become a three way race between the undead, their own prejudices, and the desert to see which kills them first?  
   Follow the survivors through the rich landscapes and beautiful history of the Levant as they work to survive in this new and frightening world. All cities, names, historical sites, military units and more are represented with as much accuracy as possible to ensure an experience that will pull you in...and never let go

Who are your influences?
I've had quite a few over the years. When I was younger David Eddings was a favorite author of mine for the way he could weave a grand and complex universe. More recently I've been drawn to George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie (one of my absolute favorites), and Patrick Rothfuss.

When did you begin writing?
I first started writing when I was in 10th grade, I believe. I had an assignment from my history teacher to come up with a myth for some natural occurrence or another - I think it was the changing of the seasons. So I wrote up my myth and got an A+++ (my first…and only). He spoke to me afterwards and told me that I should look into being a writer because of the quality of that one assignment. After that, I tried starting several times and wrote some smaller and more niche works, but time was always a commodity that I had little of.

How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
Honestly, I just kind of do my regular routine and every now and again something pops in my head. I'll say, "what if I made this…" or "I'm so tired of this particular kind of coincidence always saving the characters in these books. This is how I would have written it…" After a while, the details start filling themselves in and I can't stop thinking about it until I get it on paper.

Do you work from an outline?
I haven't ever used an outline. I kind of write where the story takes me and allow the characters to grow organically. I honestly have little patience with outlines, and I feel that if you script the details too much, you run the risk of diverting the story line to fit the outline and that can derail the experience for some readers. I want the reader to feel like he or she is in the story, like an unspoken character and the smallest things can pull them out of the experience.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
I really liked the scene from the monastery where Levi's issues come to a head. I wanted there to be conflict there, but one that made sense from the back story and the known cultural differences of the characters involved. I thought that it closed up that part of the story nicely and provided the impetus for the group to move from a safe area without feeling like the confrontation was forced.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
I don't really have a philosophy, per se. I want my readers to believe the story is possible and plausible. I want them to see themselves making the same decisions if they were in that position. I also want them to have an adventure. When I was younger, I devoured books because the stories in them played out in my head like movies and I want that same experience for anyone who reads anything I've written.

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
I also enjoy writing about religion and religious anthropology. For me the separation of Faith and Fact has always intrigued me - especially because anyone can see how much effect belief has on our cultural outlook and the history of our world.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
No real anecdote, but I will say for writers looking to put their work on Kindle to be very careful how you format your work. I wrote a book that had a plethora of footnotes and, on Kindle, they appear in red type. Well I guess one of my footnotes must have been too close to the text and the next three paragraphs of the book were all in red type.

 Available in paperback or for the Kindle.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm not a particularly religious man. In fact, I don't believe in anything that could justifiably be called a god. However, I am appreciative of the things life has given me that can rightly be called good. I have children and grandchildren and a girlfriend and a mother and friends to love and be loved by in return. I am comfortable in a fairly safe part of the world. There are distractions a-plenty to occupy my mind and to entertain my heart. If luck is a thing, I'm lucky. If success is measured by our own standard and not the arbitrary standards of the masses, I'm successful.

Thank you universe. Thank you fate. Thank you life.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Author Interview: Carl Schmidt: Author of Dead Down East

Carl Schmidt graduated from Denver University with a degree in mathematics and physics. As a Woodrow Wilson Fellow he studied mathematics at Brown University.

Carl lived and traveled widely throughout Asia for seven years, including two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and five years in Japan, where he taught English.

Carl has spent dozens of summers in Maine, on lakes and in the woods. He chose it as the setting for this novel because he loves its rugged natural beauty and the charming idiosyncrasies of Mainers. He has also written and recorded three musical albums. This, along with his formal education, proved invaluable when molding the persona and voice of Jesse Thorpe, the narrator of Dead Down East, and endowing him with both a creative eye for detail and a sense of humor.

Dead Down East is the first novel in the Jesse Thorpe Mystery Series, which includes A Priestly Affair and Redbone.  In 2001, New Falcon Press published his non-fictional book, A Recipe for Bliss: Kriya Yoga for a New Millennium.

Currently, he is a freelance writer living in Sedona, Arizona with his lovely wife, Holly, and their faithful German shorthaired pointer, Alize.

Dead Down East

Dead Down East, a fictional murder mystery, is both detective noir and smart screwball comedy rolled into one. Jesse Thorpe, a young private investigator operating out of Augusta, Maine, receives a mysterious phone call from a former client, Cynthia Dumais.  She begs to be rescued from an island south of Brunswick, within a mile of where William Lavoilette, the governor of Maine, was assassinated the night before. She insists that her life is in danger, but is unwilling to provide any further information. Reluctantly, Jesse goes to fetch her.

Within a week, Jesse has three separate clients, each with his, or her, own desperate need to have the murder solved. He assembles a motley team of compadres, including rock band members, a tie-dye psychic and his rousing girlfriend, Angele Boucher, to help him with the case. While the FBI and the Maine State Police investigate political motives, Jesse looks for the woman—Cherchez la Femme—as the trail draws him through the lives, and DNA, of the governor’s former mistresses.

Who are your influences?
Two novelists come to mind. First, Tim Cockey wrote five quirky mysteries (The Hearse Novels) before changing his name to Richard Hawke and writing more traditional, edgy ones. I much preferred the Cockey stories, which are laugh-out-loud funny…pure entertainment. They are smart, witty, and hard to put down.
And second, David Guterson, who wrote Snow Falling on Cedars. This novel was spellbinding for me. Each paragraph is constructed with precision, texture and feeling.
Both of these two were snuggled somewhere in the back of my mind as I began writing fiction.

When did you begin writing?
I published a non-fiction book on Kriya Yoga in 1999. It is partly autobiographical. Putting that together helped me develop a writing voice, but it was many years later that I turned to fiction.

 How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
I wait for a basic outline to take shape before I begin writing, but from the outset I had chosen Maine as the setting for my Jesse Thorpe Mystery Series. I have spent many summers in Maine and love its natural beauty and its eccentric personalities.

I use two tricks for developing characters. First, I search the Internet for photographs of people who might play well in the storyline. When I find one that seems just right, I put the photograph in a file and refer to it from time to time to help cement the personality in my mind.

And second, for the names, I go to lists of both first and last names that are commonly found in Maine for the age of each individual. I want the names to be authentic. Occasionally, I’ll let an outsider in, but for the most part, I want the Mainers to be Mainers in every respect.

Do you work from an outline?
Yes. But it’s an evolving outline, without a lot of detail. I trust that the story will tell itself, once it begins to roll.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
Three different scenes come to mind, and it’s hard to pick my favorite.

1. The Prologue.
            In the novel, Dead Down East, Jesse Thorpe, the narrator/private detective of the story, has his first really dicey moment in the middle of chapter four, as he is trying to worm his way through an FBI roadblock. In my first draft, I had chosen that moment to insert a rather lengthy internal monologue, to expose the witty side of Jesse’s nature. I was having so much fun with it that by the time I was done, it was almost fifteen hundred words long. And while I liked the tension it created by suspending the dramatic moment in mid-air—for several pages—eventually I decided that it would be more effective as a prologue for the book. This way, on the very first page, the reader gets a preview of the inner workings of Jesse’s mind, a snapshot of his modus operandi and a quick peak at his girlfriend.
(You can read this prologue by going to either my website or Amazon.)

2. The Frank Hayden scene.
            In each of my first three Jesse Thorpe Mysteries, I introduce one character who speaks with a strong down east accent. The intent is to fully immerse the reader in a “Maine” experience. If I had allowed this type of dialogue to run rampant in the book, it would be tedious both to write and to read. Just a touch, however, gives it local charm and color.
            Jesse discovers that the license plate on the car driven by the man who has assassinated the governor is “GOFURS.” He suspects the plate has been stolen and put on the car prior to the killing, but to double check, he runs a search to find the owner of that plate and calls him on the phone. Here is some of that dialogue:

“Hello, is this Frank Hayden?” I asked.
“Mr. Hayden, my name is Jesse Thorpe. I am sorry to call you this early in the morning, but I am investigating a minor automobile accident. A vehicle with the license plate, ‘GOFURS,’ was seen leaving the accident. That plate belongs to you. Is that plate on your 2008 Ford F-150?”
“Ah-yuh, that it tis, but there’s been no accident.”
“I see,” I said. “It’s possible someone misread the plate. Is your plate still on your truck?”
“Hahd tellin’, without lookin’.”
“Would you be kind enough to check?”
“Shuwah,” he said.
I heard his footsteps, so he must have carried his phone with him. About a half minute later he bemoaned, “By thundah, mah plate’s missin’. That’s damn wicked, it is. It didn’t fall off. Some pissant mustah stole it.”

3. The Dennis Jackson takes a baseball bat and smashes Jesse’s Subaru scene.
            Suffice it to say, Jesse gets even.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
I work hard to bring together a number of somewhat diverse elements: humor, an intriguing story, interesting characters, scientific fact, lively dialogue, and suspense. I want the reader to try to solve the mystery as it develops, but my primary concern is that the reader enjoys himself…and laughs out loud. 

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
As I mentioned above, my first book was a non-fiction work, published by New Falcon Press. The title is: A Recipe for Bliss.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
I’ll share just one. The first chapter of Dead Down East is set in Bear Spring Camps, on Great Pond, not far from Waterville, Maine. The photograph on the cover is of my son standing on the porch of cabin number 11, commonly referred to at Bear Spring as “The Sunshine Cabin.” According to my father, that happens to be the very place where I was conceived. (Not on the porch, mind you, but inside.)

Dead Down East is available on Amazon, and Carl Schmidt can be found on Facebook or his website.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Join Me After NaNo

It’s that time of year again, and I’m once again participating in National Novel Writing Month – aka NaNoWriMo. I skipped the last few years, but twice in the past I’ve used nano to complete two manuscripts.
The idea behind the event is to encourage would-be writers to cheer on one another as participants attempt to complete an entire 50,000 word manuscript during the month of November. My first experience with the one month challenge was when I wrote the fourth novel in my mystery series. I kept a video blog of that experience, and it can still be found online here. Few people have actually bothered to watch it since I posted it in 2010, and I don’t expect many if any of you to go back and watch it now.
My second time with nano was the following year when I rewrote the second novel in my mystery series, having lost the original first draft in a catastrophic PC hard drive failure.
This time I’ll be using the opportunity to complete my entry in a new series several authors and I have been working to create. We developed a character and backstory together, and are working on a prequel novel which will act as a sort of pilot episode for the series. From there, each author has carte blanche to use the character in a novel of his or her own creation.
My novel will be tentatively titled On the Side of the Angel, and I’ve already created a cover concept. Each of the novels in the series will feature the badge seen on my cover indicating that it’s part of the Bartering Angel series.
Once November is over, I will hopefully have a completed first draft, and I will then need other eyes to help me sort out any issues with grammar, punctuation, spelling, and even craft issues such as story arc and character development. Readers who take on these responsibilities are known as beta readers, and I’m here to ask you to join that part of my team.
If you have any interest in being in on the ground floor of cleaning up a rough manuscript and bringing it to a fuller more realized state, just drop me a line. I’ll send you a copy and even include you in the acknowledgements of the completed book when it’s published.
As a teaser, here’s the story description I tossed together for the book’s nano page:
A woman with a "particular set of skills" has been forced to find a new life having faked her death and gone off grid. Finding herself in Pittsburgh with no friends, no job, and only the skeleton of a fictional identity, she must deal with some unsavory people if she hopes to bring the man who destroyed her family to some semblance of justice.